Just after midnight on June 6, 1944, the British 6th and American 101st 82nd Airborne divisions invaded Nazi occupied France. Packed into wooden gliders, the troops skimmed through night skies to seize strategic targets ahead of the Allied invasion force assembled in 7000 ships off the Normandy coast. D-Day had begun.
Among the British glider troops was Ron Lawrance, now 90, living in a Devonshire care home. Sixty-seven years earlier, adrenaline raced through his young veins as he watched the ground approach; joining a battle predicted by his Commanders to cost 10,000 Allied lives.
The assault had mixed results. While British glider-borne troops captured the ‘Pegasus’ Bridge across the Orne River, and disabled German artillery at Merville, dense cloud and anti aircraft gunfire over the Cotentin Peninsula broke up the American air-borne formations, causing troops to be dropped over an area of 1,000 square miles. This caused confusion amongst enemy ranks, but established a chaotic and lethal front line.
For gliders closing on their intended targets, landing wasn’t guaranteed. German forces had stretched wire across potential landing sites, and low lying areas had been flooded; crashing gliders, bogging troops down into killing grounds of sniper and machine gun fire.
Whether by wire, water, gunfire or sheer bad luck, Ron Lawrence’s glider crashed-landed; stranding him meters away from the enemy. What happened next is unclear. We do know that Ron was captured by German forces, that he escaped, and walked for days back to the Allied lines, surviving by eating anything he could, including the tongues of dead animals.
Weeks later, the scene was joined by Robin Brown, now 86 and running a people-finding website in Kent. In 1944, Robin was in the Royal Engineers, tasked with supplying logistical support to the invasion and maintaining roads and bridges.
Robin recalls an uncertain and dangerous environment. “I was stationed in the town of Bayeaux. Many of the local women were too friendly with the Germans. Long after the enemy left we still had to look out for women snipers, believe it or not.”
November 2011, and Robin’s and Ron’s lives would coincide when Jean Sanders Crook, Ron’s former employer, asked Robin to find her old friend with whom she had lost contact with in the 1980s.
Within just two days, Robin had used marriage records on 192.com to trace Ron’s daughter, thereby finding the man himself.
Explaining his astonishing search result, Robin said:
“One didn’t have all this information on the internet until about the mid 90s. I can now access complete records of births deaths and marriages along with edited electoral roll data.”
“Using 192.com I found out that there were four Ron Lawrances who married in the 1940s. Only one married an Eileen, the name of Ron’s fiancee, supplied by Jean Sanders Crook. This told me her maiden name was Riley. I was then able to check all the births that came from this surname and check them against the name of his daughter, also provided by Jean. It was then not too difficult to scan all the marriages and find the daughter’s current family name.
Once Robin had identified the right daughter, he was able to contact her via her listing on 192.com finding Ron, and so reuniting him with Jean after 30 years.
Dominic Blackburn, Product Director of 192.com said: “It’s an extraordinary and moving story; from Ron’s experiences as a young man to Jean and Robin finding Ron again after all these years. It’s a source of great pride here when we help old friends to reunite, and we hope this remarkable reunion can encourage others to do the same.”